by Thomas G. Morrow
A response to corruption
In the thirteenth century many priests were involved in seeking wealth and having a pleasant life. They hardly preached at all, virtually never studied, and paid for important positions so that they could get even more money. A number of priests openly lived with women, causing great scandal. Some of the bishops lived in unbelievable wealth, and would sell Church positions to keep their rich life style. Many of the people were just as bad as their leaders.
|Alas, how sad it is that some are far more ready to judge (and criticize) priests than they are to pray for them.|
As a result, many so-called prophets had appeared, some good, some not-so-good, who promised terrible punishments if people did not reform. Peter Waldo was one of the reformers who had a great beginning. He gave up his riches to live in poverty and spread the faith. He had many followers who also lived as poor men, and did penance. However, when they began to preach without permission against the lazy and sinful priests, the Archbishop of Lyons, France, excommunicated them.
The group, called the Waldensians, took their case to the pope, and he encouraged them. He praised Peter for living in poverty and gave him and his followers permission to urge the people to live moral and holy lives wherever the bishops allowed them to do so. But since they had not studied theology they were not permitted to explain the Bible or to instruct people in the faith. Unfortunately, they began to do both.
|St. Francis of Assisi|
In time they got into all sorts of errors, such as placing their interpretation of the Bible over the authority of the pope, denying both purgatory, and veneration of the saints. They also refused to go to confession to immoral priests, preferring to confess to good people who were not priests. As a result, the Waldensians were excommunicated by the pope in 1184.
However, there were still a number of them going all over, spreading their errors. And, there were also the Albigensians or Cathari, as they were called in Italy, who condemned the material world as evil. As a result they denied the sacraments, and marriage in particular. Many people listened to both the leftover Waldensians and Cathari because they lived Gospel poverty, unlike the priests.
Franciscans take another approach
Despite their sincerity, and their living radical Gospel poverty, all [of the Waldensians and Cathari] fell astray. They lost the faith. But, their contemporary, Francis of Assisi did not. Why not? Because he never went anywhere to preach the Gospel without permission of the priests. Furthermore, he would never criticize the priests and bishops -- even the most lazy and immoral ones -- nor would he allow his friars to do so. (As a result, the Franciscans were always welcome just about everywhere they went.)